A new metabolic process in the body has been discovered that can switch off inflammation linked to several diseases including arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and heart disease.
The study, published in the journal Nature, showed that "itaconate" -- a molecule derived from glucose -- acts as a powerful off-switch for macrophages, which are the cells in the immune system that lie at the heart of many inflammatory diseases.
"It is well known that macrophages cause inflammation, but we have just found that they can be coaxed to make a biochemical called itaconate," said one of the lead researchers Luke O'Neill, Professor at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland.
The researchers believe that the findings could help develop much-needed new drugs to treat people living with inflammatory and infectious diseases.
"The macrophage takes the nutrient glucose, whose day job it is to provide energy, and surprisingly turns it into itaconate. This then blocks production of inflammatory factors, and also protects mice from the lethal inflammation that can occur during infection," said study first author Evanna Mills from Trinity College Dublin.
The discoveries were made using both human cells and mice as a model organism.